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Crime overhaul targets gang leaders, madams and bookies

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announces new regulations to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to fight organized crime during a Montreal news conference on Aug. 4, 2010.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Brothels and bookies have become the latest targets of the Conservative crime crackdown.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson unveiled a series of regulation changes on Wednesday that have expanded the definition of a "serious crime" to include a series of gambling offences, and crimes related to drug trafficking and prostitution.

While the changes boost penalties for those crimes, the primary goal is to widen the use of the sophisticated law-enforcement tools that can be used to crack indictable offences committed by organized crime groups.

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The new regulations will allow authorities to pursue wiretaps, the seizure of proceeds of crime along with tougher bail, parole and sentencing conditions for organized rings involved in drug smuggling, prostitution and gambling.

Mr. Nicholson said the new rules aren't just meant to target madams and gambling cheats. The real targets are the gang kingpins who make immense profits from the illegal activities and could previously escape the toughest measures aimed at gangsters.

"Such crimes are often considered signature activities of organized crime because of its long-standing involvement in and reliance upon those activities," Mr. Nicholson said.

"It's one more tool."

Claude Laferrière, the lawyer for a Quebec victims' rights group, suggested the changes are too small to strike fear into the heart of the criminal underworld. He said the measures appear to be "a small step toward harmonizing" Canadian law with penalties in the United States.

"They're trying to create an approach more in concert with the Americans. It's a very timid step, but it's a step," he said.

Michel Auger, an author and expert on organized crime, said gambling has long been a big source of revenue for gangs, even as police concentrated efforts on the rapidly expanding drug trade.

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"For a long time people who ran those organizations were outside the target of measures used to crack down on crime. These laws should take them off the sidelines and put more of them in jail," Mr. Auger told Radio-Canada.

The changes were applauded by law-enforcement officials from Ontario and Quebec. Ontario Provincial Police Chief Superintendent Don Bell said areas like illegal gambling have long been dominated by gangs "because of extremely high profit margins for very low risk."

"We've now closed that loophole," he said.

Regulation changes announced by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson apply to 11 charges. The crimes include:

» Keeping a common gaming or betting house.

» Betting, pool-selling and book-making.

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» Committing offences in relation to lotteries and games of chance.

» Cheating while playing a game or in holding the stakes for a game or in betting.

» Keeping a common bawdy house.

» Several offences in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act relating to trafficking.

» Importing, exporting or production of certain scheduled drugs.



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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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